Spotlight on Presidential Scholar Award Recipient Nha Nguyen

Nha Nguyen is currently pursuing an MA in Critical Gender Studies at CEU, having completed her bachelor’s degree in Professional Communication from RMIT University in Ho Chi Minh City. She is committed to mentoring young Vietnamese women researchers through a critical race and feminist lens, and aspires to influence positive policy changes in Vietnamese institutions.

We spoke to her on the occasion of her 2021 Presidential Scholar Award. This is an edited interview conducted on September 20, 2021.

What does this honor mean for you?

The award is both a recognition of the scholarly academic side of the research that I engage with at CEU and also honors the collaborations with the other scholars I've been working with for the past few years related to issues of gender violence and political injustice pertinent to Vietnam specifically and Southeast Asian region more broadly.

What was your route to CEU?

My bachelor’s was in communications and during those studies I had the opportunity to take a few courses on gender and sexuality in the media. My entrance into the field was personal before it became intellectual and by the end of my bachelor’s studies I wanted to transition into Gender Studies.

While working for a university in Vietnam, I started to engage with several research projects on gender issues in the country. I was actively looking for programs in gender studies, which is how I learned about CEU and it’s well established department - a big reason I chose to study here.

What drives you in your work?

Growing up in Vietnam, I've personally experienced a lot of issues related to gender inequality, sometimes even on a more serious level related to violence. These experiences drive me to pursue this path of studies related to gender and continue to engage in scholarly works on the area. My most recent collaborative research project is a book chapter titled ‘Populist politics in a market-Leninist state: (Re)thinking gender in Vietnam’, published in the edited book ‘Gender and education in an era of post-truth populism: Struggles, challenges and Strategies’ by  Bloomsbury (2022). In this project, my colleague and I discuss the way in which the Vietnamese government has employed populist politics to once again promote traditional/conservative gender roles in society to manage the economic transition into a market economy while maintaining political power.

In the past four years since I started working at my previous institution in Vietnam for research, I've also been teaching in a developmental project with a few others colleagues to develop a workshop on emotional literacy for secondary schools. The emotional literacy workshop focuses on helping students identify emotions, which is not something that we are really taught in school. Being able to identify emotions is the first step of students being able to recognize what they're going through and how to communicate about it.

I was also working as an advisor for some students at my previous Institution who were working gender diversity, so my work has often been collaborative in these ways.

What advice do you have for others applying for this scholarship?

The scholarship, as I see it, is a form of support for students that not only recognizes research academically, but also the kind of contribution we’re making to the community. It supports the future and engagement that we envision and in this way encourages the passion we have for what we're doing. So my advice is not to limit oneself into the academic environment but really consider how your work affects the broader public.

What else would you like to express?

CEU has had a significant impact on the way I see my research, the topics I'm engaging with and what I would like to do in the future. My department has been particularly enlightening in the kind of material that we engage with. Also working with students from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives collectively contribute to meaningful discussion and thinking about how to collaborate to address social challenges.

It has been a really important experience so far and also very inspiring and terms of my thinking about what I would like to do with my work not only for the critical community, but in terms of how it relates to a broader public and in other geopolitical contexts.

The Presidential Scholars Fund was established by Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zsohar. It supports four Presidential Graduate Research Awards for exceptional Master's and Doctoral students whose research shows promise for the next generation. The Fund also awards two scholarships per year to incoming bachelor's students demonstrating exceptional academic credentials and leadership promise.